People like to talk up the third preseason game. It is generally a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Teams spend this week emulating their preparation for real games. There tends to be more game planning than the typical preseason game. Starters usually go at least a half.
That got me wondering how significant the third preseason game was for successful teams. I decided to go back ten years and look at how the four teams that ended up in the conference championship games performed. I only looked at the first half because that tends to be the period the starters play. Obviously this isn't perfect. It doesn't account for the strength of the opponent. Some teams might play their starters into the third quarter. Others might sit out key guys. I think going back ten years at least should put us into the ballpark, though. Here is how I found the first half went for these forty teams from biggest halftime lead to biggest halftime deficit. Please note these were done by hand.
Some of the highlights:
- The exact same number of teams led at halftime and were behind at halftime, 18 each. There were 4 teams tied.
- In terms of blowouts, the results were similarly even. 9 teams had a double digit lead while 9 trailed by double digits.
- The aggregate point differential is +19 points in all of the games played. That means these teams led at halftime by an average of 0.4 points.
- There were only two games where teams that went on to the final four that year played each other, Steelers-Eagles in 2004 and Colts-Saints in 2006. Neither of these ended up being Playoff matchups.
- The 2006 Bears played the Cardinals in the third game of the preseason. Dennis Green made reference to this preseason matchup a few months later in his "Bears are who were thought they were," meltdown.
So the data suggests there really isn't any strong correlation between a deep Playoff run and the performance of the starters in the third preseason game. The results were all over the map. Shocking, huh? It's probably a reminder of how we can make too much out of preseason. There are certainly things that matter. Certain individual performances can be important in the proper context. Going through the in season routine also probably has some value.
Just don't get too high or low when it comes to the result, no matter how important people make it out to be.